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Saturday, September 30, 2023
About the Book
Book: The Looking-Glass Illusion
Author: Sara Ella
Genre: YA Retelling (or dystopian fantasy)
Release Date: September 19, 2023
Step through the looking glass. Slay the Jabberwock. Seek the King.
Alice is not prepared to face what awaits beyond the Tulgey Wood. When she and the rest of Team Heart enter the fourth and final Wonderland Trial, it’s up to her to lead them to victory. But this Trial is more than a game. If Alice and the others fail to defeat the Jabberwock and reveal the truth about Wonderland, more than points and fame will be lost.
Chess Shire never believed he’d make it this far. Now he’s stuck navigating a Trial he’s seen but doesn’t remember, all while searching for the brother he left behind. Not everything is as black and white as the game that shares his name. And if Alice discovers his deepest regret? Chess might just lose her too.
Apart, Chess and Alice scour the eight squares of the Heart Trial in search of memories, truth, and an Ivory King who seems more illusion than reality. Will they learn to lead together to face their greatest fears? Or will they remain pawns in a queen’s game, never truly seeing the Wonderland they’ve come to believe in?
Once upon a time, Sara Ella dreamed she would marry a prince and live in a castle. Now she spends her days homeschooling her three Jedi in training, braving the Arizona summers, and reminding her superhero husband that it’s it’s almost Christmas (even if it’s only January). Sara is the author of the Unblemished trilogy and Coral, a reimagining of The Little Mermaid that focuses on mental health. Her latest journey into the world of The Wonderland Trials feels like coming full circle after working for Disney. Sara loves fairy tales and Jesus, and she believes “Happily Ever After is Never Far Away.”
More from Sara
“Step through the looking glass. Slay the Jabberwock. Seek the King.”
It’s my tagline for The Looking-Glass Illusion, but in truth, I had no idea what those words truly meant until I wrote the ending (and rewrote it several times).
I didn’t fully understand what the looking glass did or did not do—only that Alice had to step through it.
I didn’t know who or what the Jabberwock really was—only that Team Heart had to overcome it.
And I really couldn’t quite figure out this Ivory King character I had introduced in The Wonderland Trials—only that he was real, and that, somehow, the King would reveal himself in the end.
This is my process and it’s rather frustrating not to know what you’re up against. I wish I could outline and have all the answers ahead of time. I wish I knew every intricate detail about my stories. It would certainly make the writing life a lot easier. But I like to think the not-knowing part is God’s way of keeping me humble in all of this. Because I only discover the story and the true underlying theme of it all when He decides to reveal it to me.
So, in the name of revealing things, here are three truths God showed me through the process of writing The Looking-Glass Illusion.
Faith is not blind.
I think we can all remember the quote from The Santa Clause with Tim Allen that goes, “Seeing isn’t believing, believing is seeing.” It encompasses the idea that we don’t have to see in order to believe. And while I believe this is true, I also think if we say our faith is blind, we’ve missed the mark.
God gives us every tool we need to base our faith on the truth in the Bible. He doesn’t ask us to walk blindly. He’s given us sight in His Word! And while we don’t know or see everything yet, we do have concrete evidence to stand on that what the Bible says is real.
In The Looking-Glass Illusion, Alice steps through the looking glass not knowing what awaits her on the other side. She does know, however, that The Adventurer’s Almanac her sister gave her has never steered her wrong. It’s guided her along the way, and she holds fast to it as she steps into the unknown.
I didn’t know how this book would end. But I do know that time and time again, God has walked with me through every ending to every book I’ve written. When I hold fast to that truth, I can have faith and the courage to move forward rather than let fear get the better of me. And speaking of fear . . .
Fear is a liar.Anyone who’s listened to Christian radio has probably heard the popular song “Fear is a Liar” by Zach Williams. It’s a great song and I think we all need to hear it from time to time. Alice and her team have a multitude of fears to overcome. Chess Shire in particular has to overcome his fear of facing his past. I won’t spoil anything for those who haven’t read it, but the theme of overcoming fear is an overarching one in this duology. Perhaps I could have made it more complex and profound, but it’s really quite simple:Fear is a liar. And the only way to combat lies is to stand on the truth of what we know is real because . . .
The fairy tale is real.I am often asked why I choose to write fairy-tale-inspired stories. I like to turn back to my author tagline. While my logo and website design and even my bio have changed over the years, my tagline has remained the same:“Happily Ever After is Never Far Away”This is something I have held to from the onset of my author journey. While fairy tales may be but stories, our walk as Christians is in the living breathing fairy tale of God’s Word. Remember that quote from “The Princess Bride?”“Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles!”
That line always reminds me of the Bible. Everything we love about fairy tales can be found within the pages of His #1 Best-Selling Book. And it all really happened! The fairy tale is real, and no matter what dragons (or Jabberwocks) we face in this life, we are promised happily ever after (dare I say, Wonderland?) in the next.
Thank you for taking the time to sit a while with me and for sticking with this series through its conclusion. Cheers, and happy reading, Wonders! The true Wonderland awaits!
Before I start my blog I must mention the book cover. It is so intricately done and eye catching I had to give a shout out to whoever designed it. The cover matches perfectly with the story which is something I always notice. Now on to the conclusion of this series. I will recommend that you read the first book so you will understand the story better.
Chess and Alice are back to finish their quest . I have been waiting for this book and now that it is here, I don’t want to read to fast. I want to soak in every detail and follow along as they have an adventure that can only be described as thrilling. With riddles and mazes they must fight their way to the end.
Is it possible for the four Houses to come together and share power? Chess and Alice need to keep their guard up because I don’t think they are being told the truth. I liked how Chess questioned Scarlet’s power if this happens. Of course they are quick to say that “until someone new passes the Fourth Trial , Scarlet holds her title, position, and control.” So there is a catch I see. Hmm. What will our main characters do?
It’s a simple quest they say. All Chess has to do is find Alice, solve the riddle , slay the Jabberwock and find the king. I wonder what Alice is going to think when she hears what is expected of her? As Alice follows Celia to the cottage she tells her, “You can’t lose something that doesn’t belong to you.” Such wise words we should all remember. Being angry over something we think is ours only leads to distraction.
The author delivers a story with imagination that will satisfy those who adore fantasy books. I love how the author took my favorite fairy tale and made it into a story where danger, secrets, greed and faith abound. Heroes are clearly identified and the riddle will keep readers guessing. As a team bands together we witness how important it is to work with a common goal. The ending is everything I had hoped for and the author has made me fall in love with her exquisite writing style where imagination brings delight and hope.
“Where there is courage, there is always hope.”
I received a copy of this book from Celebrate Lit. The review is my own opinion.
Genre: Christian Historical Romance, Christian Western
Release Date: January 24, 2023
Gripping western romance and murder mystery set in Prescott, Arizona Territory in 1893.
Deacon Colter was happy in his job as the stockyard vet. But when his best friend asks him to work as a livestock inspector, he must confront his own obsessive-compulsive nature to support his friend. Even though he hopes for a family of his own one day, he believes that no woman will see past his quirks. Will he find a woman who can overlook his behavior to see his true heart?
Grady Thatcher waited six long years for justice for his parents’ murder. When a strange twist of fate puts him in a position to find the killers, he must decide if he will sacrifice his budding romance with one of the Harper sisters to pursue justice. Will he choose love over justice?
Lilian and Justine Harper were two sisters who moved to Prescott to escape the abusive men their father tried to pair them with. When Lilian meets Deacon Colter, she wonders if he could ever love someone with her past. Justine falls hard for Grady Thatcher. Yet she doubts if he truly loves her or if he befriended her only to get information about the men who killed his parents. Will Lilian and Justine find true happiness with the men they love?
Karen Baney is passionate about writing stories full of flawed characters. She enjoys weaving together stories of second chances, redemption, and overcoming personal trials. As a transplant to Arizona in the late 1990s, she loves researching the state’s history and finding ways to seamlessly incorporate real history and real settings into her novels. In addition to writing and speaking, Karen works as a Software Development Manager for a Christian ministry.
Her faith plays an important role both in her life and in her writing. Karen and her husband, Jim, make their home in Gilbert, Arizona, with their two dogs, Bella and Daisy. Both Jim and Karen are active at Rock Point Church in Queen Creek, Arizona.
Visit Karen on the web at: www.karenbaney.com
More from Karen
What was the inspiration behind the Colter Sons Series?
The Colters (Will and Hannah) are the central characters from my first series, the Prescott Pioneers. For years, I have wanted to write stories about their children. I love the idea of writing many series about several generations of the same family.
Nothing came of the idea until I brought back a character, Joshua, from the Prescott Pioneers who fancied Hannah before she married Will. Joshua’s unrequited love led me to write a scene where he meets Hannah and Will again after eight years. To hit home the point that Hannah had everything he always wanted, I spontaneously wrote that she had five sons. Only a few sentences sparked the idea for the entire Colter Sons Series. (Joshua’s story is in Joy for Mourning, Book 2 in the Desert Manna Series).
Before I mapped out a series outline or developed the characters, I wrote the introductory chapters in the first person from each of the son’s point of view. Their personalities came to life, and I eventually fine-tuned that writing exercise in Chapter 1 for each of the books in the series.
Where does Deacon Colter fit into the series?
Deacon Colter is the fourth Colter Son, and his book is the fourth in the series. Since he was a very minor character earlier in the series, I refined some of his character traits. (Don’t worry, I write each book in a series to stand on its own, so you won’t miss anything.)
Out of all the Colter Sons, Deacon is the most socially awkward. What made Deacon special for me was that behind his looming, large exterior lies a soft heart and fierce loyalty for those who he cares about. When under stress, his obsessive-compulsive tendencies become harder to control.
Do you normally write a story with over two points of view? Why write the four points of view in The Resourceful Stockman?
Other than my very first series, The Prescott Pioneers, I usually stick with two points of view in my novels: the hero and the heroine.
However, earlier in the Colter Sons Series, I wrote that Deacon Colter became fast friends with Grady Thatcher, the younger brother of the woman who married Deacon’s older brother Sam (The Reluctant Cattleman, Book 1). When it came time to outline the story, I knew Grady’s story had to be told along with Deacon’s. Doing anything else would disappoint fans and leave the story feeling incomplete.
Grady’s quest to solve his parents’ murder provided the perfect catalyst to force the routine-loving, obsessive-compulsive Deacon outside of his comfort zone. Because he is fiercely loyalty, he risked much to help his friend.
Where did the idea for livestock agents come from?
I initially wanted to make Deacon and Grady Arizona Rangers. However, during my research, the timing and even some duties didn’t fit either of these men. I like to stay true to history. Rarely do I take creative liberty because I want readers to learn about Arizona history. Deacon and Grady’s ages put them about a decade before the Arizona Rangers formed.
So, I continued with my research about brand-burning and rustling. When I stumbled on an Arizona Territorial statute to create a Livestock Commission, complete with details on what the duties entailed, I had my answer. The timing and duties fit. Many livestock agents started as veterinarians or ranchers. They had the authority to hunt down the rustlers and deal with disease outbreaks. All this fit with my characters.
And, yes, everything in the novel about their jobs and the livestock commission’s start is true to history, except for the names of real people.
At first I wasn’t sure that I would like the format of this book. Each chapter goes back and forth between characters which made it hard for me to keep up with. As I began to understand the flow of the story, I began to really get to know each character better and enjoy the story. There is a definite faith element in the story which gives an illustration of forgiveness and trusting God.
I usually can say I like one particular character more than the other , however in this case each one brought an important piece to the story which fit together like a puzzle. Deacon and Grady are like brothers and look out for each other. It is funny how one thinks his friend rescued him but in reality they did that for each other. Their bond is built on trust and how Jesus brought them together to heal.
Grady still remembers when his parents were murdered and it replays in his mind constantly. Deacon is there to help him through his grief and takes a job with him even though it is out of his comfort zone. That is what friends do; they support each other and lay their lives down for each other.
The young women in the story have a tragic past. Their father treated them unkindly and placed them in dangerous situations. I must warn readers that there are sone sensitive subjects that may be uncomfortable for some to read. The author does do a good job of being attentive to how these subjects are presented in the story.
I enjoyed learning about livestock and how much work goes into taking care of them. Cattle can spread disease easily if not caught in time. Grady and Deacon have their hands full trying to track down where the spread of foot and mouth disease started and also stumble upon cattle rustlers. The story is a good western story with danger that kept me reading the story. I had to know who was behind the murder of Grady’s parents.
The ending is filled with adventure as Grady and Deacon close in on who has been behind stealing cattle and also the murders of Grady’s parents. I felt like I was watching a western on television with outlaws, gunshots and suspense. I enjoyed the story and was happy with the ending.
I received a copy of this book from Celebrate Lit. The review is my own opinion.
As tragedy ravages the camp, can She’erah step up and complete the outpost?
She’erahs is a woman trying to leave her mark in a man’s world. Her vision and ability surpasses her father’s, yet she remains second-in-command as they are tasked to build Pharaoh’s outposts in Canaan. She knows she is worthy of the task, but her clan is skeptical.
The last place She’erah expects support is from her charioteer, but Lateef is the lone voice of encouragement. His integrity and steadfastness is a plumb-line in She’erah’s life and she can no longer deny her growing feelings for him.
Acts of sabotage threaten the construction and the shaky foundation of She’erah’s pride. It’s up to She’erah to break generations of rivalry, distrust, and jealousy—if she can learn to rely on the strengths and abilities of those around her to help.
Will she learn to trust God and others before her life’s legacy comes crumbling down around her?
Author of Biblical fiction, avid reader, pastor’s wife, Naomi loves reading the Bible and imagining how things were at the time. When she’s not serving in various areas at church, trying to stay on top of mountains of dishes or convincing her rescue dog, Freeway, to be cute on command for Instagram reels, you’ll most likely find her enjoying a good book and a cup of coffee. Naomi co-hosts #BehindTheStory with Naomi and Lisa, an author interview show on YouTube and your podcast platform of choice.
More from Naomi
A woman architect in ancient times?
She’erah’s family is mentioned in five verses in 1 Chronicles 7:20- 24. In this brief detour from the list of genealogy, we learn some interesting facts.
She’erah is the granddaughter of Joseph (yes that Joseph with the coat of many colors, vizier to Pharaoh)
Two of her brothers get themselves killed for cattle rustling.
Her father, Ephraim, goes into deep mourning for his sons.
There is a late-in-life baby (as a result of dad’s mourning)
and She’erah built Lower and Upper Beth Horon and Uzzen She’erah.
Then we are right back to the begats.
Wait, hold on. That’s all we get? What is the story behind her building these towns (two of which are still standing today)? What was the reaction of those around her?
Something I find helpful to remember is that when you know about someone’s family, you in a way know the person. With her grandfather being Joseph, suddenly we have opened a whole new world of what we know. She’erah and the clan would have had access to all of Egypt’s knowledge and resources. Where she still might have gotten backlash from her more Hebrew clan, Egyptian women had more independence, managing their husband’s estates, or even their own.
We also know the generational legacy that was passed down of the younger sibling being favored above the older. Ephraim over Manasseh, Joseph over his ten elder brothers, Jacob over Esau, Rachel over Leah, Isaac over Ishmael. I’m sure sibling rivalry could have been present.
So now we can see She’erah’s picture a little more clearly. A brilliantly minded woman determined to prove herself and her abilities. Raised in Egyptian courts, yet also Hebrew. A strange mix of cultures and dynamics that shape She’erah and nurture her gifts.
She’erah’s legacy is not only the towns she builds for generations to come, but also how she starts the work of unearthing the deep-seated rivalry that is entrenched in her family.
I pray you’ll enjoy She’erah’s adventures, as she learns to trust the Lord and those around her.
There is only one verse in the Bible about She’erah so I was very intrigued by this book. We do know that she built towns but how? The author takes us back in time and answers the what ifs as we journey with this woman who was the granddaughter of Joseph. Her lineage is impressive and I decided that I had to read how the author interprets this woman and her contributions.
With the threat of war and land being taken She’erah offers suggestions that are quickly shut down by her father. It was such a harsh tone it felt like he had slapped her in the face. It is evident that our leading lady is not respected but she has such a desire to help. I did appreciate her father standing up for her when one of the laborers protest her orders. It is going to be a long journey for She’erah I believe.
There are some sad moments in the story as two of She’erah’s brothers go against their father. The consequences are devastating and will affect many throughout the land. I felt so sorry for her mother as she grieves a great loss. The author does a good job of seeing what it may have been like during this time period. She’erah is a strong woman which some don’t approve of.
I liked learning about the family and how sins from the past can affect those now. It is a generational curse that She’erah is under and she needs to be able to break that in order for her to achieve her goals. I understand very well about generational curses. If we don’t stand strong and ask God to help us those curses can follow for generations. I admire She’erah for taking that stand while encouraging her father not to blame himself for the evils that have come upon them.
Examples of jealousy run rampant throughout the story as family members start to bicker with each other. Who is really in charge? That question is what brings this story to an interesting look at the dynamics of a family. Pride, greed, unforgiveness and power are planted in the family as She’erah tries to make others see the truth.
I did enjoy the relationship between She’erah and Lateef. He is a hard worker and very humble. I think sometimes She’erah was a bit pushy towards him. He wants to honor her but she does make it difficult at times. It is easy to say that She’erah is a strong woman who has no problem sharing her thoughts. Will Lateef return the same feelings for She’erah ?
The most critical relationship to me was between She’erah and her brother. Both are stubborn and want to be in charge. I’m sure it grieved their parents to witness their continuous disagreements. If only they can find a way to work together, then things would go smoother. She’erah will come to a point where she starts to feel like a failure. A very wise man will guide her to where she will seek the Lord. I loved this part of the story because it reminds us to keep out eyes on God and remove any jealousy and pride from our lives.
I really learned a lot in this story where sometimes we take our focus off of God and try to do things on our own. It is not easy to admit our sins, but when we do freedom comes. Don’t miss this emotional story that shares unconditional love and forgiveness that will go for generations to come.
I received a copy of this book from Celebrate Lit. The review is my own opinion.
Barbara Breaks from Amish Tradition to Express Her Artistry
Full of faith, hope, and romance, this new series takes you into the Heart of Amish country.
Barbara Schwartz was born into a family of quilters, but she would rather eat dirt than partake in another quilting frolic or sew on another binding. When her parents send her to Indiana to help her grandmother in her quilting shop, she finds herself amongst a very different community. It’s only one summer and then she will be back in Kentucky where she belongs.
Melvin Bontrager’s world stopped six years ago when his parents died. Now when his only means of providing for his widowed sister and niece is threatened, Melvin finds his landscaping business disappearing too. When spring delivers a newcomer who is immune to his salty moods, Melvin does something he has never done before, accepts help.
What blooms is the last thing Barbara ever expected, and everything Melvin could ever want.
Mindy Steele is the award-winning author and bestselling author of over a dozen novels and novellas in Christian fiction. Raised in Kentucky timber country, Steele has been writing since she could hold a crayon on the wall and lives in northeastern Kentucky—where many of her stories are set.
More from Mindy
The Story Behind the Story
I’ve connected with many wonderful readers since my debut in 2021 and while attending my first multi-author and reader event in Shipshewana, Indiana, I was blessed to finally meet many of them in person. I connected with my amazing assistant, my Mississippi fishing buddy, and the golden girls who have been with me from the beginning. God handpicked each of these women and I am so thankful he did.
I knew before leaving home I would not be writing about Shipshewana or the touristy areas considering I love our small rural communities, but you know what they say about thinking you know everything. . .
I was charmed at a little Bed and Breakfast and further charmed by Bridgett the owner. After touring the Amish Market and a few other memorable sites, my husband and I spent an afternoon with our dear friends Barb and Mel. Barb insisted I see her favorite place, the Krider Fair Gardens. Being a lover of flowers and gardening myself, I was entranced. I walked over every inch and stored its details in my heart. I even called my mother.
I quickly learned the quilt gardens were signature in Indiana, sprawling along the Pumkinvine Trail and covering multiple counties. From May to September, thousands come to photograph the designs that change each year. There is even an app for that now.
I had learned so much about Amish gardens and greenhouses from my neighbors who had family-owned greenhouses which I wrote about in An Amish Flower Farm.
It was also a no brainer that I would include quilting into the story. I love to quilt, much more than my dear sweet heroine needless to say.
I was especially happy to include the quilt shop, just a block down from The Blue Gate and the owner was thrilled her shop was the inspiration to Anna Beechy’s quilt shop.
Writing about two different Amish communities was a fun challenge made easy thanks to dear friends from both. Especially Anna Mae, the best garden tea maker north of Ohio who never let my questions bother her.
What was most memorable about writing this book over all others?
I had no desk!!!
I love writing about new things not explored yet, and well…my writer heart was ready to start before we even got home. Often, I let an idea percolate a few days, but this story unfolded like a favorite re-run and I knew all the words. It was time to get writing, but suddenly we had covid and hours turned to days and weeks. It was a scary time as my husband struggled with it terribly, but we got through and then Hurricane Ida struck the south and my husband was called up. I decided to travel with my husband and son to deliver Fema Relief.
My family needed me, and I needed to write this book!!! So, in pure Mindy fashion, I packed up my notepads, extra fine tip pens, and did both.
The draft of The Flower Quilter was written in the back of an old semi that leaked like a strainer as we delivered trailers and supplies from Kentucky to the hardest hit areas of Mississippi and Louisiana nonstop for nine days.
I hope to never try that again, but no matter what we encountered, those gardens of Indiana, keep popping up and adding a little sunshine to the chaos around me. God sure knows how to keep beauty in focus when everything gets turned upside down. He also knows how to take our worst traits and turn them into something remarkable.
I hope you love this story and my take on the gardens as much as I did. Thank you for being part of the tour!!! And may God bless and keep you!
This story was so fun to read as I followed Barbara to visit her grandparents. She has come to help her grandmother in her quilt shop. The thing is poor Barbara can’t quilt to save her life. The needle pricks on her fingers are proof that perhaps she needs to find something else to do during her stay. I can relate to Barbara so much. My mother was gifted at sewing, knitting, crocheting and embroidery work. Me not so much. Okay not at all. Don’t ask me to sew a button because you may be waiting awhile. Being in Indiana is fast paced compared to her home in Kentucky. One encounter with a young man didn’t sit well with her. Who knew the friend she makes just happens to be related to the person who almost ran her over the first day she arrived? Will she find her confidence here or will she allow the enemy to discourage her?
Melvin is such a good character. He has devoted himself to helping his sister and niece after their loss. He has no intentions of looking for a wife and is content with his life. I admired his integrity and faith. His run in with Barbara is funny and instantly I knew these two would give us much entertainment.
I enjoyed learning about the differences between the Amish who live in different areas. Where Barbara is from they dress very conservative. Seeing how they dress here in Indiana she thinks the colors they wear are very pretty. I can tell she felt a little uncomfortable around some of the people in the community. The gossip starts up about her when she gets lost one evening. It seems like she can’t catch a break and I so wanted her to be more confident and strong.
The author gives us a great story about using your gifts to bless others. I also liked the laughter I found in the story as Barbara seems to get herself in funny situations. She is so set on being independent she forgets that sometimes our pride can get in the way. As Barbara tries to find her path in life we witness growth and trust. We need to keep out eyes on God and He will direct our path.
Visiting the glorious and eye catching gardens made Barbara feel at peace. This is where she felt at home and lavished in the beauty with eyes twinkling. The author does an amazing job of incorporating history into this story with a particular garden that I know would be peaceful. God’s beauty is all around as Barbara knows where her gifts are. In that moment she feels at peace and is stunned at what God had created.
I am sorry to see the story end but oh my what a beautiful reminder about forgiveness and trusting God. Barbara and Melvin learn what it is like to see the beauty around them and allow God to heal broken hearts. This was a journey that I will cherish forever as I witnessed unconditional love and a new beginning for Barbara and Melvin
“Whatever gifts you have been given by God, use them to serve others.”
I received a copy of this book from Celebrate Lit. The review is my own opinion.